Engaging with Media

I enjoyed the Netflix show, The Witcher. One of the things I really enjoyed about the show, was that it trusted the audience to figure out the different timelines. For those of you that aren’t aware and haven’t watched the show, there are three timelines that converge. The clues as to the relationship between the timelines are somewhat subtle. You have to be paying attention to the show to catch all of them.

For example, in the very first episode Renfri mentions a young girl called the Lion of Cintra, shortly it cuts to calling Ciri the Lion Cub of Cintra. This is confusing, because of the age. it stuck out in my mind though.  A few episodes later when Geralt is investigating a Striga there’s a piece of art with a young prince and princess. Seconds later it cuts to a live shot of those people in a scene including Yenefer. It was around this point, after some definite confusion, it coalesced in my mind that there were three timelines and when the timelines were occurring. Within that same episode there’s another clue with Stregobor and his predilection to hunt girls born during the eclipse, indicating the ordering of time between other episodes as well.

Similarly, there were odd reactions to the middle episodes of the Mandolorian. Specifically, the Tatooine episode. Which I thought was strange. Sure there was some fan service in going to the planet. I felt it reinforced themes. Mando hated droids and didn’t trust them to do much of anything. That Mandolorians were generally honorable – given his dedication to the job he took. It was reinforcing who he was given the betrayal he’d just committed. It was reframing his commitment to the Child in context with he commitment to his code and the contract he committed too. It was a theme episode not one to drive character advancement.

I think there are a couple reasons for this. First, we’re not truly engaged with the media we consume any longer. If we are watching a show or movie at home, it’s likely we’re watching it while using another device, another monitor, but doing something else. Second, a lot of us never really learned about themes in literature and definitely not in movies. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to understand why some director or writer would go this route with a given show.

While I think this is an education issue, Folding Ideas, over on YouTube, thinks this is an anti-intellectual issue. Where he believes it’s an intentional misunderstanding or ignoring of the themes. Where people reviewing or explaining the ending of a movie look for the literal textual based understanding without looking at the themes or metaphors within the film. You can see it below.

I disagree with this. If it was intentional, I don’t think we’d see it everywhere. Because it’s not just in entertainment media we see these sorts of critical misunderstandings. I think this is a combination of education, practice, and engagement. Since, we aren’t completely engaged with media, we miss things. The examples I gave that easily explain the timeline could be easily missed if you’re looking at your phone or only partially engaged with the media. If you aren’t willing to give your attention wholly to one piece of media, then the other piece of media will likewise be misunderstood and misinterpreted. It’s likely that a piece of misinformation would slip through our critical thinking during this dual engagement approach.

When I watch media, I try to engage with it entirely, however, this is difficult when you’re tired or when you have your phone right there. I try, when I’m at my computer, to focus on the video I’m watching or the article I’m reading. However, there are times when a video is interesting, but not enough to keep me fully engaged, so I’ll look at some other media. Generally, I’d like for people that write articles or produce videos to be more media literate. Read some books on media criticism and the different approaches based on the medium.

I remember watching the videos that are in the video above and just feeling frustrated because what they were saying didn’t resonate with my interpretation of the movie. In fact, they didn’t illuminate my understanding of the movie at all and just resulted in me turning off the video. Relatedly, I feel that The Witcher is suffering for literal interpretations of the show, when the right way to view the Witcher is through a theme lens. Because, there are a lot of interesting themes in the show, I really feel like each arc has a different set of themes that are important.

Texas Repulicans

Yesterday the Texas Republican Party released their platform. It’s terrifying. It starts out innocently enough saying that they plan to uphold the constitution and that everyone is created equally. However, that’s the end of the good stuff. As I tweeted out yesterday there’s a portion that says that they do not support teaching children critical thinking or anything that could lead them to question their current belief system or parental authority.

I can’t think of a better definition of science than critical thinking, questioning current beliefs and authority. When a scientist makes a discovery that doesn’t conform to the current scientific paradigm(program) accepting the results for the experiment REQUIRE these abilities. Looking at the faster than light neutrino fiasco of the past year is a perfect example of this. Scientists saw a result that was highly suspect (faster than light speeds), but they were willing to accept it, if it passed enough tests. They were critical of the results, didn’t accept it on face value, they were willing to question the current paradigm (relativistic physics) and the authority of nearly 100 years of work based on that paradigm.

This is also a case of biting the hand that feeds. Texas’s growth has been fueled through science, technology and research at businesses. With Houston as the center of the oil world, which is driven by better science of getting oil out of the ground, new technologies to do so and the research for increasing the conversion rates from crude oil to gasoline and other goods, you’d think that Texas would understand why it’s important to have scientists. While Texas doesn’t have as many Tier 1 research universities as California (3 vs 9) these three are extremely powerful and wealthy. UT is the 3rd richest in the country and Texas A&M is the 10th. They are both research powerhouses in the academic world. Creating policies that negatively impact the education system that feeds these schools is only going to hurt their abilities to compete in the future.

The Texas Republicans also want to “Teach the Controversy” with equal air time for every side of the argument. In this case when they get to evolution I hope the controversy they discuss is the recent disagreement between Evolutionary Biologists Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson, because that’s the biggest one going on in Evolution right now. However, I know this is not what they mean. They plan to teach the “controversy” of creationism in science class. This is as dangerous as not teaching critical thinking.

If you couple the lack of critical thinking with teach the controversy approach, you have a recipe for disaster. You create students that are unable to really understand the differences and take what the teacher believes at face value. If the “biology” teacher is a creationist (which has happened in some states) then they will not adequately teach evolution and the students will not understand why creationism is wrong and evolution is scientifically accurate. They will be unable to critically reason the differences. This is a terrifying prospect.

These are not the only areas that Texas Republicans are showing that they are out of touch with the youth of America. The DailyKOS has further analysis  a lot of the bad policy stances that are coming down the road in Texas from Republicans.